“AN AFRICAN ORIGIN OF PHILOSOPHY:MYTH OR REALITY? BY BROTHER MOLEFI KETE ASANTE AT ASANTE.NET

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City Press Column

An African Origin of Philosophy: Myth or Reality?
By Molefi Kete Asante
(First Published in City Press, July, 2004)

There is a common belief among whites that philosophy originates with the Greeks. The idea is so common that almost all of the books on philosophy start with the Greeks as if the Greeks pre-dated all other people when it came to discussion of concepts of beauty, art, numbers, sculpture, medicine of social organization. In fact, this dogma occupies the principal position in the academies of the Western world, including the universities and academies of Africa. It goes something like this:

Philosophy is the highest discipline.
All other disciplines are derived from philosophy.
Philosophy is the creation of the Greeks.
The Greeks are white,
Therefore, whites are the creators of philosophy.

In the view of this dogma, other people and cultures may contribute thoughts, like the Chinese, Confucius, but thoughts are not philosophy; only the Greeks can contribute philosophy. The African people may have religion and myths, but not philosophy, according to this reasoning. Thus, this notion privileges the Greeks as the originators of philosophy, the highest of the sciences.

There is a serious problem with this line of reasoning. The information is false. As far as scholarship can reveal the origin of the word philosophy is not in the Greek language, although it comes into English from the Greek. According to dictionaries on Greek etymology the origin of the word is unknown. But that is if you are looking for the origin in Europe. Most Europeans who write books on etymology do not consider Zulu, Xhosa, Yoruba, or Amharic, when coming to a conclusion about what is known or unknown. They never think that a term used by a European language may have come from Africa.
There are two parts to the word philosophy as it comes to us from the Greek, “Philo” meaning brother or lover and “Sophia” meaning wisdom or wise. Thus, a philosopher is called a “lover of wisdom.”

The origin of “Sophia” is clearly in the African language, Mdu Ntr, the language of ancient Egypt, where the word “Seba,” meaning “the wise” appears first in 2052 BC in the tomb of Antef I, long before the existence of Greece or Greek. The word became “Sebo” in Coptic and “Sophia” in Greek. As to the philosopher, the lover of wisdom, that is precisely what is meant by “Seba,” the Wise, in ancient tomb writings of the Egyptians.

Diodorus Siculus, the Greek writer, in his On Egypt, written in the first century before Christ, says that many who are “celebrated among the Greeks for intelligence and learning, ventured to Egypt in olden times, that they might partake of the customs, and sample the teachings there. For the priests of Egypt cite from their records in the holy books that in the former times they were visited by Orpheus and Musaeus, Melampos, Daedalos, besides the poet Homer, Lycurgus the Spartan, Solon the Athenian, and Plato the philosopher, Pythagoras of Samos and the mathematician Eudoxos, as well as Democritus of Abdera and Oenopides of Chios, also came there.”

Obviously many Greeks who learned philosophy ventured to Africa to study. They came for many intellectual reasons. One can see that the Greeks appreciated the fact that in Egypt were men and women of great skill and knowledge just as the Egyptians appreciated the fact that there were men and women of greater knowledge in Ethiopia.

According to Herodotus, writing in the 5th Century BC in Book II of History, the Ethiopians said that the Egyptians were nothing but a colony of Ethiopians. Of course, today there remains an entire system of disbelief about the history, experiences, and knowledge of the people of Africa, created during the past five hundred years of European conquest. A rhetoric of denial of Africa’s capability was developed to accompany the dispossession of Africa. This was done to go along with the European conquest of Africa, Asia, and America. Colonization was not just a land issue, it was an issue of colonizing information about the land. Yet I am of the opinion that the ancients knew better than the contemporary pundits about the importance of non-Africans studying in Africa.

There was no Germany, France, England, Italy, United States, or Spain to speak of when the Greeks started to travel to Africa for their studies. Indeed, they went to Africa and after they went back to Greece created the Greek Golden Era. It was not before, but after they had studied in Egypt that these people got some advanced training. What I am saying is that they had to come to Africa and study with the wise men of ancient Egypt, who were black, in order to be able to learn medicine, mathematics, geometry, art, and so forth. This was long before there was any European civilization.

Why did the Greek philosophers study in Africa? Thales, the first Greek philosopher and the first who is recorded to have studied in Africa, says that he learned philosophy from the Egyptians. They studied in Egypt because it was the educational capital of the ancient world. Pythagoras is known to have spent at least twenty two years in Africa. One could get a fairly good education in twenty two years, perhaps even earn a Ph.D.! The Greeks were seeking the philosophical information that the Africans possessed. When Isocrates wrote of his studies in the book Busirus, he said that “I studied philosophy and medicine in Egypt.” He did not study these subjects in Greece in Europe, but in Egypt in Africa.

Not only is the word philosophy not Greek, the practice of philosophy existed long before the Greeks. Imhotep, Ptahhotep, Amenemhat, Merikare, Duauf, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, Akhenaten, and the sage of Khunanup, are just a few of the African philosophers who lived long before there was a Greece or a Greek philosopher.

When the Africans finished building the pyramids in 2500 BC it would be one thousand seven hundred years before Homer, the first Greek writer, appears!

And when he appears and begins to write The Iliad he does not spend much time before he is writing about what happened in Africa or what was happening in Africa. The Greek gods were meeting in Ethiopia. Homer is said to have spent seven years in Africa. What could he have learned in those classes with those wise teachers? He could have learned Law, philosophy, religion, astronomy, literature, politics, and medicine.

Africans did not wait for the Greeks to figure out how to construct the pyramids. Can you see the Egyptians standing around at the stone quarries or on the banks of the Nile in 2500 BC speculating on when some European would come alone and help them measure the earth, calculate width, breadth, and depth, determine the exact helical rising of Serpet (Sirius) and the inundation of the Nile, or diagnose the diseases of the human body.

According to Herodotus, in Histories, Book II, the Colchians were Egyptians “because like the Egyptians they had black skin and wooly hair.” Aristotle says in Physiognomonica that “the Egyptians and Ethiopians are very black.”

Led by the Pharaoh of African History, Cheikh Anta Diop, a new cadre of scholars has emerged to challenge all of the lies that were told about Africa and about Africans. They are the ones who, as the poet Haki Madhubuti says, walk toward fear, not away from it. They are the real standards for courage and commitment.

At a major 1974 conference sponsored by UNESCO on the “Peopling of Egypt” in Cairo, two blacks, Diop and Theophile Obenga, walked toward fear and when they had finished presenting their papers they had shattered all of the lies that were told about Africans. Using science, linguistics, anthropology, and history, these two intellectual giants demonstrated that the ancient Egyptians were black They used a melanin test on the skin of a mummy, art from the walls of tombs, correspondences to other African languages, and the testimonies of the ancients.

It is so interesting to me that the ancient Greeks knew much better than the current crop of Europeans who pontificate on the subject that the ancient Egyptians, long before the coming of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Turks to Egypt, were Africans, indeed, black-skinned Africans.

Aristotle, the philosopher, wrote in his book, Physiognomonica, that “the Ethiopians an Egyptians are very black.” Herodotus adds that the ancient Egyptian had “black skin and wooly hair.”

The color of the ancient Egyptians should not matter; it only comes up because one always finds some white person who is dedicated to the proposition that Africans could not have built the pyramids, and especially not black Africans. Of course, everyone should know that the Egyptians were Africans, but the fact is that they were not just Africans, these particular Egyptians were black skinned with woolly hair.

Philosophy begins first with the black skinned people of the Nile Valley around 2800 BC, that is, 2200 years before the appearance of Thales of Miletus, considered the first Western philosophy. 30,000 years ago our ancestors were separating red ochre from iron in a Swaziland cave. They had to have some idea about what they were doing. There had to be some reflection, some process by which the elders determined what was to be used for what and on what occasion. Thus, even before writing, we have evidence that Africans were engaging in meaningful discussions about the nature of their environment.

Molefi Kete Asante is one of the most published contemporary scholars, having written more than sixty books and three hundred articles.

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Copyright © 2005 by Asante & Associates

36 Responses to ““AN AFRICAN ORIGIN OF PHILOSOPHY:MYTH OR REALITY? BY BROTHER MOLEFI KETE ASANTE AT ASANTE.NET”

  1. Juan de la Cruz Says:

    Interesting indeed. But my opposition to this theory does not imply that I am a racist, rather a realist.

    The theory is facinating and close to reality, however, this needs volumes of eveidence to concretize this hypothesis.

    Thank you.

  2. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Read the book Stolen Legacy by George M. James -get it thru Amazon. It documents the Greeks stealing philosophy from BLACK EGYPT!

  3. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    I’m posting now a review of this book-read it!

  4. iza Says:

    Trying to claim ancient Greeks “stole” their culture from Africans is an asinide theory full of holes and misconceptions. If any ‘stealing’ is being done in modern day revisionist theories such as this, its to ancient Greek culture by Afrocentrics in an atempt to create an identity to ones own culture. Very sad indeed.

  5. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Sorry you don’t want to know the BLACKTRUTH! Herodotus,Aristotle all wrote about the origin of GREEK philosophy from BLACK Egypt! Well we know your problem. Just can’t give up those white invented lies!

  6. Cole Randall Says:

    Yeye, You cite one book as evidence for your proposition. I could probably cite numerous books that state quite the contrary and have more evidence to support their claims, but then again- that would be “White Invented Lies.” The racists here aren’t whites, greeks, or anyone else who seeks the truth, but the radical, afrocentric blacks who seek to distort and twist history to fit into their amazingly incorrect assumptions.

    A shame.

  7. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Brother Cole, The white authorites like Herodotus, Aristotle etc. are were most of these sources of proof of BLACK Egypt and the stealing of the philosophy come from. Afrocentric historians are very fortunate that white people like this who should know actually did not lie and told the truth. So nobody is making this up out of BLACK desire. Yes, whites have their liers too,but place them side by side with the truthful whites and you see the difference. THIS is just the BLACK TRUTH which whites and many BLACKS cannot believe because they have been told lies so long(“tell a lie over and over and it becomes the truth!” is this white game!) So if you aren’t convinced look at the original sources- like now I will publish what Herodotus and Aristotle said about BLACKS in Egypt and Ethiopia and you will get your mind blown!

  8. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Aristotle said:
    “Why are the Ethiopians and Egyptians bandy-legged? IS it due to heat and just as planks are warped when they are dry, so are the bodies of living creatures? They warped when they are dry, so are the bodies of living creatures? The hair proves this;for theirs is woolly and wooliness is a curving of the hair”
    From Aritotle. Problems,edited by T.E. Page,Cambridge Univ.Harvard UP,1936,Book X1V,p317
    Now I have more like this on stealing of philosophy and gods.Will type it up soon. This is just the problem I have here in Nigeria. I am operating out of the cheapest cybercafes and the machines are old,break down,and you need money to do it and if I have a laptop and an internet connection I can type these things all night really and keep up with you BAD BLACK FOLKS!

  9. lee Says:

    your phalicies are flawed. most greeks were not white but ethiopian meaning they were mostly black, have fun.

    • heavyrules Says:

      really ??? them most egyptians were white europeans??? stop lying!!! and no greeks didn’t steal from egyptians or from the library of alexandria. alexandria was founded after the greek invasion. but you afrocentrics are so afraid of the truth

  10. ZIK Says:

    Hahahahahahaha! White racists will find the information about the African origins of Western culture far too painful to stomach. But the facts remain what they are! Hahahahahaha!

  11. Nixon Says:

    Sir,would you mind if we invite you for a speech on black philosophy in our university?am a Business Management student @ the university of Eastafrica Baraton,in Kenya.Am so impressed by your truth on the origin of philosophy,i think all my friends and schoolmates deserve to hear and know the truth.Kudos!!! Thumbs up for you sir!!!

  12. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    At Asante.net contact addresses for this are:

    Booking Representations and Media contact: anaroot@cs.com

    Literary Representation:
    jacton@timeequities.com

  13. The Truth Says:

    Lee, you are a delusional. Greeks have been and always were white Europeans, not black Africans. Get a clue.

  14. Charles Says:

    I’m very happy to know the truth about the origin of African philophy i never come across an interesting thing like this, I’m a business management student at St. Augustine university of Tanzania, i wish to tell every one at my university about what i’ve read to day……! But sir i became angry after reading this, the whites too almost everything from us yet they were not satisfied, they stole even our Philosophy. I took some note for my class presentation about this topic they a very helpful, i wish u could be my lecturer.

  15. blessing Says:

    I am very impressed by your article, sir. It is really good to know the truth about the origin of philosophy. it will very pertinent to also back this claim with more tangible evidence. And i will like the article to be sent to my mail box. Kudos.

  16. Ushie, Patrick Ola Says:

    I think the time has come for us to face things the way they are. We have come of age to be led by the unbriddled sentiments of “white folks.” They have almost succede in making us believe allthese lies, that’s why many Africans still doubt the possibility of an African origin of philosophy. Lets face it,philosophy and philosophical speculation all started in my back yard-Egypt.

  17. Bruce V.S.Turner Says:

    It is truly a shame how the white european Lying plagerizing
    masses have stolen everything out of a land that existed long before they crawled out of the caves they dwelled in and had the nerve to put their name on everything that was creatd by the African Civilizations that preceeded them. The white races problem is merely their inability to explain where they came from. All excavation known to man that has taken place in Africa keeps digging up black people. They have not dug up one white person yet. When will you give up this white superior ideology and face the truth.

  18. Bruce V.S.Turner Says:

    It is truly a shame how the white european Lying plagerizing
    masses have stolen everything out of a land that existed long before they crawled out of the caves they dwelled in and had the nerve to put their name on everything that was creatd by the African Civilizations that preceeded them. The white races problem is merely their inability to explain where they came from. All excavation known to man that has taken place in Africa keeps digging up black people. They have not dug up one white person yet. When will you give up this white superior ideology and face the truth. You
    are becoming extinct 3/4 of the planet is made up of people of color.

  19. jah rateng skabeli Says:

    Kudos to I-ntellectual warrior Molefi Asante! Asante Sana (thank you)

    Africa-Black Africa is the foundation.No apologees. Period.

    “Tell the children the truth coz we’ve been trodden on the wine press of the vampire system much too long”-Nesta Marley

    We must rebel I-ntellectually….It is the only way to save Mother Africa and the world. Like the days of yore.

    Then our heaven on Jah earth will materialize. Hear!

    Children dont be afraid. Embrace I and I power within. Love back I and I. Let the scales drop from off I and I eyes! You ARE RIGHT!!

    See, Africa old but still fresh. Awaiting I and I Creators…..

    We dont need their approval no more. They are just simple minded, mean spirited bandits.

    Lets all stand firm ye truthful soldiers of zion!

    This is our business.

    One Love

  20. Elyse Says:

    Hi,

    As a Greek I would like to ask a favor. Over and over scholars have noted that the Ancient Greeks never claimed they originated ‘everything’. They even clearly mentioned that some of the gods came from Africa (note that they would never refer to the gods as ‘our gods’, because you don’t own the gods who could change you into things or strike you dead! The ‘Greek gods’ is a later invention to contrast from the ROMAN gods). They openly admired Egyptian and Ethiopian culture and openly said ‘this idea came from Egypt or that one from Phoenicia’, etc. The ideas about ‘who the Greeks were’ and ‘what they did’ came from the north, millenia later. The northerners never asked the Greeks what they thought of these ideas! After centuries of horror under the Turks, coming out of that to find the whole of Europe admiring you…well…a heady thing I suppose…and we’ve also had healthy egos, but even so, many Greeks throughout the centuries and today have not and do not think of themselves as the ‘brothers’ of northern Europeans (after all, it was the people from the NORTH of them, not from the SOUTH of them that they called barbarians) and DO NOT share their views about the people of Africa. My ancestors didn’t know that what they were doing would be seen millenia later as some sort of ‘proof’ of racial superiority of ‘white’ skin! My favor is this, if we are indeed cousins, remember that we are honored to be so, and don’t assume we share the northerners’ views. We are still the same nutballs we were back then, running around looking for the nous and logic and truth and arguing like mad and being crappy to each other. That whole racial superiority thing based on skin? Didn’t come from us. But…being who we are…and if we are related to you you will of course totally understand this…truth is more important to us than air…so let’s all be truthful…take what is true and speak it, but don’t twist truth or be fallacious or use truth to hurt or puff up or manipulate…or worse…

  21. From Down South Says:

    Deep… Whitey gave it up! ^

  22. Ogundipe, Victor Odunlami Says:

    This is a good development. This is to show that what the whole world depend on for development even started from Africa. Africans should then be encouraged to seek the truth which philosophy stands for, to help develop this beautiful continent of ours. So help us God.

  23. Ike Says:

    Dear fellow lovers of truth,

    Let those who pride themselves on the present know that it tells us of the transience of time and all that exist in time. let those who boast of the past realize that they did not make this past. It rather made them; and even to boast of the past is to rest on one’s oars or to live the life of the dead. It is even worse to falsify the past for then the foundation of the future is being undermined or imperiled. If scholarship could be founded on falsifications, what then is the claim of science? And what is worse, what becomes of the love of wisdom when we erect foundations of deceit in the name of philosophy. Having read the works of Herodotus, the statements of Plato where he compared the intellectual abilities of the Greeks and the Egyptians, the statements of Aristotle where he referred to the circumstance of leisure as having provided the enabling environment for the beginning of philosophy in ancient Egypt, having studied George James’ Stolen Legacy, The Destruction of Black Civilization, and the erudite works of Cheik Anta Diop and not less the recent enlightening submissions of Emeagwali among others that seek to represent the facts of ancient times, I feel that, not withstanding the difficulty of accepting some facts that question all the dogmas we have grown up with, it is important for philosophers on both sides of the divide to approach the discourse with a certain level of empathetic openness. While the Greek-origin proponent adverts his or her mind to the accumulating evidence for African origins of philosophy and the sciences generally, the African-origin proponent may help the spirit of philosophy by being more ‘loving’ in tone and language while advancing the course of truth.

    I greet you all in the love of philosophy.

  24. Sopdet Says:

    Blackness is an inner state – the path of Sophia and gestation in the womb, where you submerge yourself after stealing a spark of the garish sun (see fish people). Your skin may be any color…. This is why so many Christ figures in different religions are called the dark or black one…

    There are black people that carry an unbalance of whiteness (the god principle) and there are white people carrying an unbalance of blackness /goddess principle).

    Humanity is on the wrong path when you think that the EXTERIOR matters. The path is ONE, and it goes within.

  25. dionysios Says:

    i don’t understand what you mean when you say that Egyptians were Black…

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  27. steve Says:

    Even though the evidence here is hard to refute am amazed that there is people who are calling Asante a liar which reminds me of what one wise man said—-the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cock sure —-any formal attack on ignorance is bound to fail bcoz the masses are always ready to defend the most precious possession ,their ignorance ——the Egyptians said they came from the beginning of the nile where GOD happily dwelled at the foot hills of the mountain of the moon—–MAKES ME WONDER IF THE EGYPTIANS WERE WHITE WHY WOULD THE GREEKS …WHITE PEOPLE REFFER TO THE EGYPTIANS AS BLACK WITH WOLLY HAIR ??????

  28. Eghwrudjakpor Says:

    The Bible said, God created man (Adam) in his own image. is he a white or a black? if he is a white, how did black man came into existence? I think we saw ourselves living in this world, we didn’t chose for ourselves to live. therefore, we should lead a good life and go back to where we came from. Thank you

  29. Vincent Silindile Mdidimba Says:

    Black people Are the first people to have the revelation that there is God and they made means to seek Him. Black people are the originators of Religions in the world. I am a Christian and when I was young I thought that Christianity was a white men’s religion because everyone in the bible was painted white. And mind you I am from South Africa in a country where every nice thing was painted white and ugly and bad things was painted black.
    I want to tell every body today whites and blacks especially blacks because this is their history, heritage, that the bible is 99.9 percent black. And as soon as black people realized that God loves them and He had always loved us, they will be liberated from all the lies that hold them back. Black people the bible is your heritage start reading it with african eyes. The person who wrote the first Koran was an a black person. The person who took religion to India was a black person to China Japan to the Americas was a black men. I understand why some people don’t believe that a black person was used by God from the beginning to propagate His truth. Because the devil manage to blind their eyes. And I will pray that Yahoshua through his Holy Spirit to open their spiritual eyes to see the truth and know it so that they can be free from the lies of devil.

  30. Chidiebere Says:

    Thank you so much for your nice research, in fact i am dealing on this topic as a student of philosophy at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria. It is my choice of topic at presentation. You have really given me more insight on this issue. thanks. please update me with more of lessons.

  31. Chidiebere Says:

    Thanks alot it is a wonderful research. It really helped me in my presentation ‘Does Africa has a philosophy?’ . I am a student of Philosophy at Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria. Thanks alot. Please update me more on this issue.

  32. nafuna Says:

    it is true the origin of man is in Africa as yu have stated that the origin of philosophy is in Africa.during the evolution of man in olduvai Tanzania the man evolved slowly and as they multiplied they started looking for the way of survival thus standing on two limbs then started walking. migration started some went in different places and due to weather many were affected thus white people and black. believe me all human race is from africa.

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  34. jose ortiz Says:

    Let the truth set you free!

  35. garaf Says:

    http://www.historyplace.com/pointsofview/not-out.htm

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